Export-Import Bank

Congressional Republicans Aim to Loosen Rules Restricting Export-Import Bank Cronyism

Legislation would return the crony-capitalist agency to former glory.

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|||Imagine China/Newscom

Congress is trying to open a huge loophole in the rules governing the Export-Import Bank, one of the federal government's most crony-capitalist institutions.

The bank gives taxpayer-backed guaranteed loans to corporations doing business in foreign countries. But thanks to a reform adopted in 2015, it can't give loans of more than $10 million without the consent of three of the five members of its board of directors—a stumbling block, since the agency's board has been largely vacant for the last two years. With President Donald Trump's nominations to Ex-Im Bank stalled for now, the corporatists have been looking for a workaround.

Their solution: If the rules are a problem, change them.

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) along with 30 other Republicans have proposed a bill to let the Ex-Im Bank remove the three-out-of-five rule. "The bank is a critical lifeline for many manufacturers, large and small, in maintaining their competitiveness in international markets and it is past time that its doors are open," said Dent in a released statement.

These are common claims in defense of the agency. In reality, only 25 percent of the Ex-Im Bank's activities go towards small businesses. Most of its financing goes to large corporations. Many of the companies that have benefited in the past from the Export-Import Bank have remained steady on their own two feet without its assistance in the last two years. Apparently, they don't have trouble finding lenders in the private sector.

Less than 1 percent of small business jobs in the American economy rely on Ex-Im Bank. Ten companies account for over 60 percent of the agency's resources. Boeing alone gets 40 percent, leading many to nickname Ex-Im "Boeing's bank."

This isn't the first time Rep. Dent has attempted to make it easier for Ex-Im Bank to make loans without a quorum. In July 2016 he added an amendment to an appropriation bill with similar aims. In July 2017 he made a similar attempt. Last month he tried again, only to be thwarted by the House Financial Services Committee.

Dent has now announced his intent to retire from Congress, but he seems intent on giving the bank a boost before his term ends in 2018. Other Republicans see the Im-Ex Bank differently. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) attempted to eliminate the Ex-Im Bank this past summer, but he wasn't able to get the votes.

Former Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.), Trump's recent nominee to the board of the Ex-Im Bank, has been a sharp critic of the credit agency over his 15 years in Congress. In a 2015 speech, Garrett called Ex-Im Bank "corporate welfare" and "a bank that embodies the corruption of the free enterprise system."

Trump was also critical of the agency when he was campaigning for president. Once he got the job, his tune changed. His predecessor did a similar flip-flop. It remains to be seen if the same will be true of Garrett.